Not-so-real reality TV

In the last couple of years, I’ve heard a lot about LudoBites, the pop-up restaurant held by chef Ludo Lefebvre. I started following him on Twitter, and I enjoyed his tweets. When he was recording his new ‘reality’ show, “Ludo Bites America,” I was excited to read his tweets about discovering green chile in Santa Fe and about working with Biker Jim in Denver. I loved visiting Biker Jim’s sausage cart when I lived in Denver, so I looked forward to seeing him get some TV time with Chef Ludo. Sadly, the show created so much tension in my household that I had to turn it off.

First, there was the issue of the ‘spontaneity’ of the pop-up restaurant. Krissy, Ludo’s wife, talks in earlier episodes about how she uses the Internet a lot, and that web promotion is what drives crowds to make reservations for LudoBites. Yet they portray their restaurant search as low-tech, with the couple simply wandering the town to find local eateries that might work as a pop-up venue or which might inspire the chef to create his own take on local cuisine.

In Denver, they said they ‘happened upon’ Biker Jim at his hot dog cart and discovered his delicious sausages, only to learn that he had just opened a full restaurant nearby. That would be believable if Biker Jim wasn’t already on nearly every “must see in Denver” list. Or if he hadn’t already been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and other food shows. Or if they hadn’t already told us that Krissy was from Denver and has family there. They clearly had to have known about Jim before arriving in Denver and had at least read about him online.

Krissy also seemed to forget her Denver roots when she acted naive about the definition of ‘rooster’. A taxidermist wanted to know what kind of rooster she wanted (chicken, pheasant, etc.). When he asked where she was from, she said, “LA” and he nodded knowingly. Any idiot could surmise from context that a rooster is a male but can be any kind of poultry. All she had to say was “rooster chicken”, but instead she played the part of the city slicker who doesn’t understand poultry terms (despite running a restaurant with her chef-husband).

Another problem with the episode was the repetition of the same shots. We heard Krissy say that her dad and her step-mom came to LudoBites to celebrate her dad’s birthday. The same quote was used three times in the episode. The same shot of her family was used at least three times. In every episode, they show a “coming up” clip prior to a commercial break. Next, we see that clip in more context. Then, after the next commercial break, they help us catch up by showing the clip again–just in case we idiots forgot what just happened two minutes earlier. There is so much padding that one wonders what the week was actually like. I’m assuming it consists mostly of people prepping food and cleaning stuff. My guess is that they encourage Ludo to stage a meltdown or at least ask him to overreact when he’s upset, just so that they have some lively clips to fill an entire episode. That would explain why acts as though he can’t understand why the inexperienced people he hires as kitchen staff can’t do exactly what he asks within seconds of him asking.

In each episode, it seemed that Ludo chose to partner with a small-town cafe owned by a local who was not a chef. Ludo would try to run the kitchen like the professional chef he is, and he’d FREAK OUT when no one understood his work method. A Southern woman running her recently deceased dad’s restaurant knew how to chat up the locals, but she wasn’t a chef, had never taken reservations, and never had a packed house. So why should she know how to be a line expediter? He acted incredulous, but why should his methods even matter to someone with a restaurant with five tables? Another woman was the only employee, cooking the food and bringing it out to her customers herself. Ludo ate there, asked to host his event there, then complained because she only had a small range and one oven. I know that reality TV needs drama, but do they really think audiences are so stupid that we’d need (and believe) to see Ludo pitch a fit because he is shocked that a small-town restaurant with one employee was ill-equipped for a high-volume evening of upscale cuisine?

What especially upset me was the way each local restaurateur would say something about how they hoped to learn from Ludo. That piece of their ‘interview’ was played repeatedly as well. In the Denver episode, even Jim, a hot dog cart vendor, was made to talk about how he was excited to learn from Ludo. His restaurant serves sausages–sausages they buy from a supplier. They don’t even make them on site, so which of Ludo’s methods would be relevant to a hot dog restaurant? I love Biker Jim’s sausages (elk, wild boar, rattlesnake-pheasant), but his business has little in common with what Ludo Lefebvre does.  To say he needs to learn from Ludo is patronizing. What those restaurants want–and can get–from hosting LudoBites is national exposure and more business. Why can’t we be content with knowing that? Why does Ludo need to be a hero who comes in to teach the ignorant people living outside of the big coastal cities?

In the Denver episode, he complained about not getting the items he needs. I only lived in Denver for ten months, but even I could tell him where to get a good scale (there’s a decent restaurant supply place in West Denver). He complained about how green the students from the culinary program at the Art Institute were. In their defense, they are young students and are of course green. But they were also featured not because he thought they’d be great; it’s because the Art Institutes are big advertisers during food shows. I have no confirmation of it, but I’m guessing the students’ appearance (with nice shots of the school logo) was part of a sponsorship. Otherwise, if Ludo really wanted the best, he could head right over to the Colorado campus of Johnson & Wales University, a school with an excellent reputation for its College of Culinary Arts (check out some notable alumni at Wikipedia). Or he could have found staff at other excellent Denver-area restaurants like TAG and Osteria Marco. Anyone not scheduled to work the night of LudoBites would likely jump at the chance to work with Chef Ludo and would have known how to work his way. Instead, it appears that they purposely hire inexperienced staff so that Ludo has someone to scream at and criticize.

The final straw (which made the bf so angry that I shut off the TV and watched the show later, alone) was a comment made by Ludo and his wife in the ‘interviews’ that are recorded separately. Chef Ludo said that Jim seemed ‘stoned all the time’. That was a ridiculous accusation. I’ve spent time chatting with Biker Jim, and he has mentioned that he had his wild times as a kid. But he has a strong work ethic now and talked about getting his act together and not slacking. Ludo’s comment appeared staged, meant to add humor (at Jim’s expense) and create some sort of drama in the episode. But it only served to emphasize the point of the series, which is that Ludo is the only chef with a strong work ethic and knowledge of how to run a kitchen. Each week he takes over a kitchen, and the show highlights what naive bumpkins these small-town restaurateurs are. It infuriates me. Each local business owners runs their business in a way that serves their community. Jim turned one hot dog cart into five carts and a restaurant; that’s hardly an achievement made by a slow-paced stoner. Ludo & Krissy’s incredulity at how inept the locals are (comments made mostly in the separate interviews) reeks of manufactured snobbery.

Ludo consistently complained about how slow Jim is. He may not work at Ludo’s pace, but that hasn’t hurt Jim’s business. When you buy a sausage from Biker Jim, you expect to wait in a line a bit, then wait for your sausage to be grilled to order. While you wait, Jim will chat, ask you about yourself, and regale you with stories of his adventures in Alaska or elsewhere. He’s charming and knows how to please his guests. If his slow pace was really a problem, he would have gone out of business by now, not expanded to become one of the most well-known eateries in the Mile-High City. I checked Biker Jim’s Twitter account after the episode aired, and he did make a comment that he was not stoned. I have a feeling Ludo’s comment was recorded after the event and was a surprise to Jim as well.

I canceled my series recording of “Ludo Bites America.” I hope that it generates business for the small restaurateurs featured; they deserve something for being belittled publicly. But I can’t bear to watch any more.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Not-so-real reality TV

  1. Jen

    Biker Jim’s was wicked good. He has the Jen seal of approval.

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